Do you really want to win the U.S. Amateur?
__TULSA, OKLA.--__Come Sunday afternoon, the last man standing from the 312-player field at the 109th U.S. Amateur will receive the customary spoils that go to the winner of the USGA's oldest championship. The Havemeyer Trophy. Invitations to the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open. A lifelong association with some of the game's greatest golfers (Bobby Jones,Arnold Palmer,Jack Nicklaus,Tiger Woods, etc.). The thing the champion won't get, however, is the one item he could use the most.
An owner's manual.
Indeed, claiming the most prestigious title in all of amateur golf hasn't necessarily been a trusting predictor of future golfing success. In many ways winning the U.S. Amateur is golf's equivalent of winning the Heisman Trophy. It's an honor and an albatross at the same time.
Consider that with 2004 U.S. Amateur champ Ryan Moore's playoff win at the Wyndham Championship last weekend, the number of PGA Tour victories from the 12 winners of the Amateur since Tiger's three-peat in the mid-1990s sits at only three.
While all but 2005 winner Edoardo Molinari and 2006 winner Richie Ramsey have earned a PGA Tour card at some point during their career, just five currently have fully exempt status.
Why the post-victory difficulties? The reasons vary, most stemming from the simple burden of expectations. USGA executive director David Fay told me a few years ago when I broached the same subject with him that he felt after being crowned U.S. Amateur champion, some players seem to change their mindset, altering their on- and off-course routines to "live up" to their new status--particularly after playing in the three majors. Meanwhile, this change causes some to forget what led to their amateur success in the first place.
Others agree the attention afforded the U.S. Amateur winner places more pressure on a player whose shift to pro golf is not a smooth road. Unlike football, basketball or baseball, where top amateurs are drafted into the pro ranks, golfers don't have a similar mechanism to make the jump.
"You win the Amateur and people are asking why you're not out there [on the PGA Tour]," 2001 winner Bubba Dickerson told me a few years back. "Well, it's not like other sports."
Whether this week's winner is a highly touted amateur or an unknown who capitalizes on the proverbial vagaries of match play, he will have plenty of doors open to him. The publicity and recognition that goes with winning the title remains unequaled compared to any other amateur event.
What he does once he walks through those doors, however, might be more of a challenge than winning in the first place.
__ PGA Tour__
__Year Winner Starts* Cuts Wins Top-10s Status
__1997 Matt Kuchar 201 97 1 17 PGA Tour
1998 Hank Kuehne 113 51 0 8 None
1999 David Gossett 113 36 1 6 None
2000 Jeff Quinney 77 34 0 10 PGA Tour
2001 Bubba Dickerson 60 29 0 3 Nationwide Tour
2002 Ricky Barnes 37 13 0 1 PGA Tour
2003 Nick Flanagan 39 20 0 1 Nationwide Tour
2004 Ryan Moore 104 61 1 15 PGA Tour
2005 Edoardo Molinari 0 0 0 0 None
2006 Richie Ramsey 1 0 0 0 None
2007 Colt Knost 29 12 0 0 PGA Tour
2008 Danny Lee 11 6 0 1